I was in a succession of meetings at Hillingdon Council yesterday accompanying local families to meet housing officers in the hope of persuading them to give the families a council house. The families were living in appalling housing conditions, overcrowded, damp, and subject to the harrassment of their private landlords.
This is a weekly event for me, following up cases from my weekly advice surgery. It is one of the most depressing experiences. The housing officers are struggling to do their best but are faced with a housing shortage on a scale we haven't seen since the Second World War.The families are desperate to get a decent home and to feel settled, instead of subjecting their children to the constant moving from house to house and school to school as the private tenancies run out.
Buy to let landlords, who have been promoted by Gordon Brown, are profiteering from housing benefits. They are often maximisimg their profits by charging extortionate rents and minimising their costs by doing the least possible to maintain the standard of their properties. The promotion of buy to let landlords is creating a modern form of slums. It was exactly to deal with this private landlordism that over a century ago council housing was created.
The refusal of the Government to allow councils to build homes once again has resulted in a doubling of homeless households from 40,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today. True to Brown's neo-liberalism the Government has relied upon the private sector to deliver the homes we need and of course not only has it dramatically failed to deliver it is now in crisis. The house building industry is collapsing fast and the Government's target of 3 million new homes by 2020 is looking extremely unrealistic. The aim was to build at least 250,000 nrew homes each year. The estimate for this year in at best 100,000 and falling.
The Government's solution is to give more public funds and public land to the private sector. This will just increase private sector profits.
The solution which the Government will inevitably have to implement is to ask local councils to take the lead in building new council homes on a massive scale aiming at a target of 500,000 a year. In the short term we have a house price slump,(today we hear that house prices have dropped for the 8th month in a row),many private landlords wanting to offload properties and over half a million homes are standing empty. Local councils shoud be given the ability to borrow in order to purchase properties lying empty in their areas. If landlords resist a reasonably priced sale local councils should be able to use speeded up compulsory purchase powers.
The scale of the housing crisis requires an emegency programme. The days when I have to witness parents pleading in tears for a decent settled home for their children could so easliy be put behind us if the Government had the will to act.